Artists, scientists and birdwatchers will flock to Montezuma County this May for the 14th annual Ute Mountain-Mesa Verde Birding Festival.
The five-day event, which serves as the Cortez Cultural Center’s biggest fundraiser of the year, will feature presentations from bird experts in several different fields, birdwatching tours around the Four Corners and other avian-themed activities. This year’s “theme bird” is the swallow, which has six species common to the Cortez area. Festival events will be held all day on May 9 through 13, mostly starting and ending at the Cortez Cultural Center.
One of the festival’s biggest draws for bird enthusiasts is its daily birdwatching tours, festival chairwoman Diane Cherbak said. Volunteers conduct guided tours of different birding sites each day, traveling all over Montezuma County and beyond.
“One of the unique things we have here is the multiple habitats,” Cherbak said. “There are opportunities to see so many different species.”
Birdwatchers typically spot more than 100 bird species during the festival. Last year, they counted 160.
Some of the tour locations this year include Canyons of the Ancients, Ute Mountain Tribal Park, Lizard Head Pass and an overnight tour in Bluff, Utah. Most were already sold out as of Friday. This year volunteers will also offer some half-day tours for beginning birders.
The festival will also feature lectures at the Cultural Center by birding experts of different stripes. Author and photographer John Rawinski will give a presentation on Colorado owls, retired San Juan College professor Tim Reeves will speak about Four Corners gulls, and Mesa Verde National Park biologist Paul Morey will talk about the park’s raptors. The keynote speakers, wildlife rehabilitators Emily Davenport and Amelia Gazzo, will give a presentation on caring for orphaned or injured swallows during the Saturday banquet that caps off the festival.
Festival events will also include free family-oriented tours, a “Brews, Bites and Birds” beer tasting kickoff event and an art show. The poster for this year, which shows Cortez’s six swallow varieties, was designed by Dolores artist Chris Vest.
In past years, the festival has typically raised about $10,000 annually for the Cultural Center, Cherbak said. But it’s also designed to be as much fun for guests as possible. Cherbak said her favorite part of the festival is the birdwatching itself.
“Birding is kind of like a game or a puzzle – you see a bird, and you only have a fraction of a second to identify it before it’s gone,” she said. “It’s that challenge that I like.”
Registration is available for all five days and for individual tours and events. A full registration fee, including the Saturday banquet, costs $65 and daily fees are $15.